Archive for October 15, 2019

Israel’s true failures on Iran

October 15, 2019

Source: Israel’s true failures on Iran – www.israelhayom.com

Even after Israel exposed Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and the US withdrew from the deal, reimposing sanctions on the ayatollah regime, journalists and lawmakers on the Left continue to blame the Israeli government for the current state of affairs.

Failure No. 1: The torpedoing of initiatives to strike Iran on no less than three occasions. In 2010, senior defense officials Meir Dagan and Gabi Ashkenazi opposed an initiative to attack proposed by Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak. One year later, then-IDF Chief of Staff and current Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz opposed a similar move that had the support of Netanyahu, Barak, and then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In 2012, a dispute emerged between Netanyahu and Barak over the timing of such an attack, which as a result was once again not carried out.

Ever since, countless “senior defense officials” have bragged of saving us from a military strike on Iran.

Failure No. 2: The Iran nuclear deal, which was aimed at postponing, not preventing Iran’s nuclearization: The best-case scenario would see Tehran just one year away from acquiring a nuclear bomb. UN Security Council Resolution 2231 went so far as to grant Iran nuclear power status, authorizing the Shiite regime’s enrichment of uranium, including the detonation of a nuclear device, for research purposes, of course.

This was accompanied by a “side deal” that regulated the favorable economic conditions Iran received following the removal of sanctions, including the immediate release of $100 billion to the Iranian economy and a plethora of investments. Iran was not required to cease its terrorist activity or interference in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, or Syria in return for receiving these funds. In fact, Tehran actually received international funding to continue these efforts. Former US President Barack Obama and the Europeans authorized Iran’s development of long-range missiles able to reach Israel, but not Europe.

These “defensive” missiles are now in Iraq and aimed directly at us.

Failure No. 3: The response to the nuclear agreement in Israel: Netanyahu’s opposition to the 2015 deal was depicted as a personal obsession by people like then-Labor party leader Isaac Herzog, who accused the prime minister of “panicking.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voiced similar criticism, while Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid added that Netanyahu was “destroying ties with the US over a speech” [to the US Congress].” And diplomatic and security commentators praised the accord, harming the broad national consensus on the dangers presented by Iran.

Failure No. 4: Iran’s violation of the agreement. In many ways, Iran never implemented its part of the deal. For example, 8.5 tons of enriched uranium were supposed to depart Iran with the signing of the agreement; there is no record of this actually having been carried out.

And now that Iran has announced that within two weeks, it will restart activity at the Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor, it is clear that, had it destroyed the site, as it committed to doing as part of the agreement, it would not have been able to rehabilitate it so quickly. And above all else, the agreement was never authorized by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The fatwah we were promised has yet to be issued, and in its place, we have heard only speeches condemning the deal.

Failure No. 5: Even after Israel exposed Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and the US withdrew from the deal, reimposing sanctions on the ayatollah regime, journalists and lawmakers on the Left continue to blame the Israeli government for the current state of affairs. This political war they continue to wage is the mother of all failures: a lack of any sense of statesmanship.

 

The big winners in Syria: ISIS and Iran 

October 15, 2019

Source: The big winners in Syria: ISIS and Iran – www.israelhayom.com

The United States could soon discover, similar to Israel in the cases of Lebanon and Gaza, that while it’s very easy to leave Syria and remove the forces stationed there, the Syrian problem, not to mention the ISIS problem, won’t leave quite as easily and Washington will have to confront them again – perhaps on US soil as well.

The withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria and the abandonment of the Kurds to the mercy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, brings to an end Washington’s involvement in the war in Syria; a failed involvement, lacking in purpose and objective, which could have disastrous consequences for America’s friends in the region.

US President Donald Trump was right in saying that his country has never had a particular interest in Syria, a country he described as nothing but “sand and death,” divided along ethnic and tribal lines and now a playground for Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even Israel..

But American forces didn’t enter Syria to end the bloody war raging there, nor did they ever purport to be the bearers of liberty and justice for the Syrian people. They also didn’t go there – as Israel had hoped – to curb Iranian expansionism.

The Americans’ goal was to fight the Islamic State group, which had seized control of nearly half of Syria and used those areas as a launching pad for a wave of terrorist attacks across the globe, including in the US. The Americans are the last to downplay the dangers of terrorism. Ultimately, the only attack on US soil since World War II didn’t come from Russia or China, but from al-Qaida, the Islamist group that spawned ISIS, and that murdered thousands of Americans in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

The American soldiers who were sent to Syria managed to destroy the caliphate ISIS had built. However, and with all due respect to the American troops there who carried out precision airstrikes and gathered quality intelligence with Israeli assistance, their success can mainly be attributed to the Kurds in northern Syria and western Iraq joining the fray, along with the Shiites in Iraq, to fight ISIS face-to-face on the ground. The Kurdish fighters in Syria are the ones who waged pitched battles and conquered village after village, town after town, from ISIS until the final victory.

But despite the collapse of the state it established, ISIS wasn’t eradicated as a guerilla force and it still maintains a presence within the Sunni populations in Syria and Iraq. Its ideology also hasn’t vanished, as testified by the recent wave of terrorist attacks, even on European soil.

At most, its defeat has forced the group back to its starting point, circa the summer of 2014, when it first embarked on its campaign of conquests in Iraq and Syria: a guerilla organization carrying out lethal terrorist attacks against Syrian or Iraqi army forces and other rivals, waiting for the right time to rear its head.

It appears very little has changed in the Syrian-Iraqi sphere in the past decade. The Sunni population is exhausted from the war but still feels oppressed and persecuted by the rulers in Baghdad and Damascus, who head regimes subject to Shiite and Alawite influence. This sense of oppression and even loathing grew under the shadow of the Iranian presence, which many Sunnis consider intolerable.

As long as the Americans maintained a presence in the area and as long as they supported the Kurds, ISIS struggled to raise its head. Now, however, it has another chance for a “comeback.”

We need to remember that Turkey has never fought ISIS. Neither does it view the group as a dangerous enemy, rather, at most, a useful tool to use against the Kurds but also against Bashar Assad and Iran. The Syrian dictator, by and large, also avoided fighting ISIS, focusing instead on the more moderate rebel groups he considered a threat to his regime. The only ones to wage all-out war on ISIS on Syrian soil, therefore, were the Kurds.

The United States could soon discover, similar to Israel in the cases of Lebanon and Gaza, that while it’s very easy to leave Syria and remove the forces stationed there, the Syrian problem, not to mention the ISIS problem, won’t leave quite as easily and Washington will have to confront them again – perhaps on US soil as well.

 

Former PM Olmert slams Netanyahu for ‘strategic failure’ on Iran 

October 15, 2019

Source: Former PM Olmert slams Netanyahu for ‘strategic failure’ on Iran – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

Olmert looks at Trump’s Syria decision and Turkey’s attacks on Kurds, and argues that they are more examples of why Israel can only rely on itself.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 OCTOBER 15, 2019 15:50
Former PM Olmert slams Netanyahu for 'strategic failure' on Iran

Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israel focused on Iran’s nuclear threat at the expense of ignoring Iran’s penetration into Syria, said former prime minister Ehud Olmert in an scathing interview with The Jerusalem Post.

“Israel’s greatest security defense failure – the greatest in the last 50 years, since the Yom Kippur War – is that we allowed Iran to penetrate into Syria,” he said, slamming Netanyahu for playing on the politics of fear and misreading US President Donald Trump’s policies.

Olmert was attending the Rhodes Forum of the Dialogue of Civilizations over the weekend, where he spoke about Israel’s current political challenges and his own experience as prime minister. In an interview with The Post, he discussed Israel’s current dilemmas in Syria, the Trump administration and Netanyahu’s failures. Noting that Netanyahu “laid the foundations of strategic policy” in the region, he recalled that “Netanyahu was obsessed with trying to fight Iran in Iran and destroy the atomic, or what he considered the nuclear installations.”

But Iran began to penetrate into Syria, particularly in the context of the Syrian civil war, when Iran sent its Revolutionary Guard Corps to bolster Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad’s forces. “At some point while the Iranians are already in Syria, we started to attack them [with] our air attacks. [Not only that,] but following every attack we made public, provocative statements that warned and threatened the Iranians with complete destruction,” says Olmert.

“That we could attack them directly and speak about it publicly is living proof we could do the same while they were trying to enter into Syria, which changed entirely the perception of danger that we have to face in the north part of the country.” This is a great strategic failure, Olmert says. He blames Netanyahu for bombastic rhetoric that obscures failed policies.

Second, Olmert says that he is not surprised by Trump’s recent moves, including in Syria, because Trump was an isolationist from the beginning. “One can argue or have a matter of opinion, but you cannot be surprised that he is not exceptionally enthusiastic about expanding the presence of the US in the world in terms of troops and what comes with it.”

While the president has moved America’s embassy to Jerusalem and recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, Olmert says that Trump was actually more careful than the interpretation given to these moves. “This is a declarative move: no substance. The heights were annexed in December 1981, 38 years ago.” Trump’s statement merely caused more controversy over Israel’s control of the Golan, focusing world attention on it when it had been largely ignored.

“There is not any contradiction to the strategy of Trump to reduce US involvement outside of America,” Olmert explained. “Why do we have to be surprised about the pullout from Syria? He already pulled out troops from Syria and Southeast Asia. We saw a pattern. Again this is something that has to be first and foremost analyzed and debated in America. I don’t know what is good or bad for America, they must determine that.”

The former prime minister is skeptical of the bombastic rhetoric that comes from the Trump administration. While it is accompanied by threats, the US in fact appears more ready to make concessions and negotiate – even with Iran or North Korea. “It turned out now that Trump is prepared to negotiate with Iran. The reason there are no negotiations is that Iran refuses to sit with Trump.”

SYRIA REPRESENTS the same problem. Turkey’s attack on US allies among the Kurds, which was enabled by Trump’s decision to pull out troops, resulted in warnings to Turkey that the US could harm its economy. “Turkey has violated the redlines Trump drew for their involvement,” Olmert said. “What will be the American reaction?”

The result for Israel is that we must depend on ourselves, says Olmert. “I am not surprised or disappointed or devastated, because I didn’t expect anything else. When I was prime minister, the Israeli security policy depended entirely on Israel’s ability to defend itself and not rely on Americans fighting for us.”

Here again, Olmert argues that Netanyahu’s political and strategic judgement is mistaken. “Netanyahu is entirely obsessed with the policy of fear. The policy of fear creates an exaggerated perception of dangers which do not exist, as part of a calculated attempt to convince the constituents [the public] that only a person with very long and proven experience can be at the top in such circumstances. This policy of fear ignores entirely the realistic options that we have to face, and the more balanced and responsible way in which to deal with them. Here, Netanyahu failed again.”

Netanyahu has sought to prevent Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, through air strikes and other means: Olmert gives him credit for that. However he warns that Iran has crossed a redline – an “unwritten protocol understood by both sides” – that by being in Syria, Iran knows it will receive Israeli opposition. “But when we didn’t prevent them and they established their presence, they knew Israel would need to react – and they are capable of absorbing those reactions, even when it means casualties among their people.”

Since Iran knows that it will face Israeli opposition, including attacks, Olmert argues it is unnecessary for Israel to make provocative public statements. “[IRGC Quds Force leader] Qassem Soleimani will tolerate the attacks but may not be patient with the statements. And the need for the statements is disconnected from the situation on the ground; it reflects the political constraints that characterize Netanyahu and comes to serve only his political ambitions. This is at the direct expense of the security of the State of Israel.”

 

Russian warning pauses Turkish Syria operation. US pullback from E. Syria, too, opens door to Iran – DEBKAfile

October 15, 2019

Source: Russian warning pauses Turkish Syria operation. US pullback from E. Syria, too, opens door to Iran – DEBKAfile

The Syrian army’s arrival at embattled Kurdish towns in the north east, backed by Russian threats, seemingly halted the Turkish army’s advance.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, only minor isolated incidents were visible.  Although Turkish President Recep Erdogan boasted on Monday, Day 6, “We will not back down,” he also said, “We are coordinating with the Russians,” and praised their “positive approach.”

For now, therefore, the Turkish army looks like sidestepping direct clashes with the Syrian army, which has meanwhile entered Manbij and prevented the Turkish army from moving in. Kurdish forces remain in control there, as well as in the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al Ayn, which Turkish sources on Monday claimed had fallen.

On Tuesday morning, it looked as though the Turkish president had paused for reflection before deciding if and how to proceed with his operation, in the light of the Russia/Syrian threat to his forces. He needs to calculate how far he can go against the Syrian army without incurring Russian military intervention. He understands that President Vladimir Putin will not put up with an artillery attack on Russian forces like the one “mistakenly” directed against US troops at the outset of the Turkish drive into northeast Syria last week.

President Donald Trump has meanwhile followed up on his order to pull 1,000 US troops out of northern Syria with a second order for their withdrawal from the eastern regions alongside the Syrian-Iraqi border. He said those troops would remain in the Middle East and keep watch on the Syrian arena from a distance. In a phone call to Erdogan, Trump demanded an immediate truce in the hostilities in northern Syria, as US sanctions were announced by the Treasury in Washington on Turkey’s war leaders, the defense and energy ministries as well as ministers of defense, energy and interior. Trump also raised by 50pc the tariffs on imported Turkish steel and halted negotiations for a $100bn trade agreement.

The US president has delayed, but never wavered from, his resolve to pull the US military presence out of Syria. In July 2018, he withdrew US support from Syrian insurgent groups in southern Syria and handed control of their regions to Russian and Syrian forces. Israel collaborated with Trump’s moves by lifting its control of the areas adjoining the Golan and allowing them to revert to the Assad regime along with the Syrian rebel groups with whom Israel had collaborated during the war.

Trump’s actions in October 2019, for transferring control of northern and eastern Syria to Russian-backed Syrian government forces, are therefore part of the same consistent policy.

Early Tuesday, US sources in Washington revealed that US forces would remain at one last Syrian location, the large garrison at Al Tanf which commands the key intersection of the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi borders.

From Israel’s perspective, the Trump administration’s decision to pull back from eastern Syrian positions – from which US forces were able to keep the Iranian presence tied down to one place, Abu Kamal – opens most of the Syrian-Iraqi border for Iran, Hizballah and the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias, which are already in control of the Iraqi side of the border, to gain free passage into Syria..

 

In one fell swoop, Trump throws US goals in Syria into disarray

October 15, 2019

Source: In one fell swoop, Trump throws US goals in Syria into disarray | The Times of Israel

One expert says troop pullout will impact US credibility for years to come; another believes president’s stock in Mideast has plummeted while Putin’s is skyrocketing

US President Donald Trump speaks at the Values Voter Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on October 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Eric BARADAT / AFP)

US President Donald Trump speaks at the Values Voter Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on October 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Eric BARADAT / AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Since the outbreak of Syria’s brutal civil war, the United States has stated several objectives — destroying Islamic State extremists, easing President Bashar Assad from power and limiting Iran’s influence.

In just one decision, President Donald Trump may have undone all three.

The mercurial leader pulled US troops out of northern Syria in the face of a Turkish invasion against Kurdish forces, who had led the campaign to crush the Islamic State group and with US protection had enjoyed effective autonomy.

The Kurds have reached out to Assad’s regime — allied with Iran and Russia — to redeploy for the first time in years to northern Syria to face Turkey, which is trying to eliminate a force it links to Kurdish separatists at home.

Trump, who is skeptical of US military engagements overseas, already declared a withdrawal from Syria in December before backtracking but appeared to be convinced in an October 6 telephone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish troops walk alongside an armoured personnel carrier through the town of Tukhar, north of Syria’s northern city of Manbij, on October 14, 2019, as Turkey and it’s allies continues their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. – Turkey wants to create a roughly 30-kilometre (20-mile) buffer zone along its border to keep Kurdish forces at bay and also to send back some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts. (Photo by Aref TAMMAWI / AFP)

“We are now facing a situation that one could have foreseen in December, but it is being done in a way that it’s having all of the worst consequences that one could have feared,” said Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group, which studies conflict resolution.

“It raises even more questions about reliability, so many of America’s allies in the region are going to wonder what will it take for President Trump to turn around and no longer consider us partners or allies,” he said.

Damage ‘for years to come’

Elizabeth Dent, a scholar at the Middle East Institute who served as the special assistant to the US envoy in charge of defeating the Islamic State group, saw risks of a resurgence of the extremists and said that the United States could have prepared ahead of time.

“Had the US actually planned a more formal withdrawal we could have ensured that detainees were properly secured prior to pulling back forces,” she said.

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters gather around a Turkish army US-made M60 tank in the northern outskirts of the Syrian city of Manbij near the Turkish border on October 14, 2019, as Turkey and its allies continue their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. – Turkey wants to create a roughly 30-kilometre (20-mile) buffer zone along its border to keep Kurdish forces at bay and also to send back some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts. (Photo by Zein Al RIFAI / AFP)

She doubted that the pullout in itself would have long-term consequences for the United States in the Middle East, saying that both Russia and Iran have historically had deeper ties in Syria while Washington is more active elsewhere.

“But the way the decision was made — abruptly, with no planning, an optic of the US being forcibly removed or conceding to Turkish demands, and an abandonment of our partner force — will certainly have an impact on US credibility and reliability for years to come,” she said.

She said it was only a matter of time before Assad, who has triumphed militarily in much of the country, reached a deal with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

In this file photo taken on October 6, 2019 a US soldier sits atop an armored vehicle during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria’s Hasakeh province near the Turkish border (AFP)

Former president Barack Obama had called for Assad’s ouster but the United States more recently has depersonalized its position, instead calling for an inclusive political process to end one of the most devastating wars in recent memory, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions.

The Obama administration allied with the Kurds to fight the Islamic State group after deciding that Syria’s rebels were not moderate or credible enough to support.

US always ‘confused’

“America has always been confused about what it’s doing in Syria. It inflated the expectations of the Kurds well beyond what it could deliver,” said Joshua Landis, an expert on Syria at the University of Oklahoma.

“The United States was never going to be in Syria for the long haul and help establish a quasi-independent state with the Kurds. That was a pipe-dream,” he said, pointing to wide opposition in the region to Kurdish aspirations.

Landis played down the chances that the Islamic State group will benefit, saying that US military action had already decimated the extremists and that Syrian government authority was the long-term solution — “not having American police on the ground.”

But he agreed that the pullout, along with Trump’s calls for a lighter footprint in the Middle East, would boost both Iran and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting in Moscow, on February 1, 2019. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Trump since taking office has vowed to curb Iran’s influence in the region, pulling from a nuclear accord and imposing sweeping sanctions, but has also held off from military action as tensions soar.

The Pentagon ordered reinforcements Friday to Saudi Arabia after an attack on its oil plants which Washington blamed on Iran. But on Monday, the longstanding US ally was rolling out the red carpet for a high-profile visit by Putin.

“The stock of President Trump has plummeted in the Middle East and that of President Putin is skyrocketing today because nobody trusts President Trump — they feel that he is going to yank America out of the Middle East willy-nilly and they’re going to be left on their own,” Landis said.

 

Task of stopping Turkey passes from Trump to Putin. Syrian army defends threatened Kurdish towns – DEBKAfile

October 15, 2019

Source: Task of stopping Turkey passes from Trump to Putin. Syrian army defends threatened Kurdish towns – DEBKAfile

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull US troops back from the Turkish-Kurdish confrontation on Sunday, Oct.13 produced a lightning realignment of big power strength on the battlefield of NE Syria: the task of protecting the Kurds from the excesses of the Turkish operation passed to Vladimir Putin and the Syrian army.

By Monday, Syrian government forces had reached the Kurdish-held towns of Kobani, Manbij and Raqqa as Turkish troops were poised to move in against the first two. According to some reports, the Syrian army was already inside those towns, but, say DEBKAfile’s military sources, it can’t hold out against a Turkish advance without Russian support.

The wheels for this turnabout, as DEBKAfile predicted on Saturday, were set in motion by a deal struck by the Kurdish leaders of the US-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) with Assad regime officials at the Russian command center in the Khmeimim air base near Latakia. Their meetings were chaired by Russian officers. Feeling abandoned by the US pullback, the Kurds quickly agreed to relinquish their struggle for an independent state and settle for autonomous status for their northeastern provinces in return for the Syrian army taking over the defense of their endangered towns.

The deal, which took effect within 24 hours, still has rough edges to be smoothed out, such as:

  1. The exact nature of Kurdish autonomous rule and relations with central government in Damascus.
  2. The borders of Kurdish-ruled lands.
  3. The fate of the SDF.
  4. How far will Russian President Vladimir Putin be willing to push back against Turkish President Recep Erdogan for halting his army’s advance into northern Syria.

Trump ordered American troops in northern Syria to move east, out of the way of a potential clash over the Kurdish regions, up to the areas adjoining the Iraqi border. Already now, since the Syrian government is not up to a full-scale battle with the Turkish army without Russian army and air force support, Turkey and Russian stand at the threshold of a major military clash.

How Putin handles this standoff is open to question. He may be able to resolve it by giving Erdogan a quiet ultimatum to back off or face direct hostilities with the Russian army. Meanwhile, the Russian leader comes out of the mess created by the Turkish operation having attained the overriding goal of his intervention in the Syrian conflict: to bring all parts of the country under the central rule of the Assad regime.

Most immediately, he must halt the flight of thousands of Islamist State fighters from camps in Kurdish territory in the wake of the turmoil. At least 1,000 have so far escaped, raising concerns of an ISIS resurgence.

Trump’s transfer of the Syrian mess to Putin is compatible with his avowed goal: to start withdrawing American forces from Syria after the Islamic State’s defeat.